Saturday, April 04, 2009

Teacher's Pet

"Teacher's Pet", 12x16, oil on linen panel

I don't think I was ever the Teacher's Pet. Were you?

Well, wait a minute now.

Maybe I was a bit of the teacher's pet to Mr. Sell in 10th grade English. Mr. Rodney Sell was his full name and he really got me hooked on fine literature. I do think he liked me because I was a very good student. In his class we read a lot of Thomas Hardy. I remember "Return of the Native" very well. That book led me to "Tess of the D'urbervilles", (which was pretty steamy for 1967), which led me to "The Mayor of Casterbridge". I think Mr. Sell was a rather odd duck, much as Thomas Hardy was. A mixture of agnostic with a touch of spiritualism thrown in, and loving the concept of illicit love affairs and rejects in society that are somehow elevated to a hero/heroine status through the expertise of the author. That's how Mr. Sell struck me. I'm betting Mr. Sell is a Joyce Carol Oates fan, too. She's a contemporary author that makes you think about subjects that you normally don't want to think about. I've read a lot of her books, over the years, though lately I find them too disturbing.

I wonder if Mr. Sell is still alive? He was young when he taught me so he might be. Hopefully if he is, he won't read this and discover that I've called him an odd duck. Actually I had a bit of a crush on Mr. Sell, and he was probably the best teacher that I ever had, as he instilled a true love of fine literature in me. In his class, we also read the classic Greek poem "The Odyssey" , and I'll never forget how traumatized I was by the first few pages of that book. Were we really expected to be able to understand this odd prose? But by the end of the book I had become accustomed to the style of writing of Homer and couldn't wait to read more challenging works of literature.

I also recall reading Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter", some Shakespeare, and a lot of Sinclair Lewis in his class. I felt like a more mature, worldly young person by the end of the school year thanks to Mr. Sell, and a great deal smarter than I had been about controversial topics in the world of literature!

I wonder if young people today have English teachers that challenge them the way that Rodney Sell challenged me. I truly hope so.

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